On Feb. 24, the Spring Grove EDA (Economic Development Authority) voted to hire some help.

Ron Zeigler, CEO/President of Community and Economic Development Associates, visited with commissioners for a third time last week, describing the services that his organization provides.

"The bottom line is, we're here to help," he said. "We have a professional economic development program that we feet pretty confident in...."

"Economic development is an investment. It may produce results right away or it may not produce results right away.... If you don't have somebody looking out for your interests, then you kind of get left behind."

Zeigler said that CEDA serves the communities of Chatfield, Mabel, La Crescent, Harmony, Preston, Spring Valley, and more.

"I feel that we're just kind of blind to what's going on around us," EDA president Howard Deters said. He asked Zeigler if CEDA could provide a flexible plan, only providing those services that commissioners choose to ask for.

The answer was yes. Zeigler added that CEDA contracts include a 30-day out clause, so the EDA can cancel the agreement at any time they don't think they're getting their money's worth.

"We don't have our ear to the ground," commissioner Jon Nerstad said, "so just being included with these other communities would be valuable. We have to grow our tax base and our population.... We'd like to see a many-fold return on our investment."

Zeigler said that in 2013, CEDA had a budget of just under $1 million. The entity authored $3.2 million in funded grants during the year.

"With a professional consultant, it gets you in the game all the time," commissioner Robert Vogel said. "Nobody measures community development outcomes by the year. They're measured in decades. Most projects take years to develop."

"At least it gives you a swing at the bat," Nerstad noted. "We can't sit around and just watch opportunities go by us.

Zeigler used the example of Rochester's upcoming Destination Medical Center to prove a point. Spring Grove can provide housing for workers (some already commute to Rochester from as far away as Cresco, Iowa, he claimed), as well as construction-related opportunities. An example of that would be providing warehouse space for a regional builder. Lastly, the community can benefit by providing tourism opportunities, he said.

"Mayo gets a million patient visitors a year," Zeigler stated. "Thirty percent of the time, they are at appointments, but 70 percent of the time they need to figure out something to do.

A proposal was offered for consideration. For $11,124 per year, CEDA would provide approximately 416 hours of services (two days per month). That would include 40 hours of community marketing, 40 hours of community outreach, 30 hours of revolving loan fund work, 90 hours on specific projects, 65 hours of grant research and grant writing, 50 hours of business retention and expansion study, 24 hours of administrative/meeting time, and an estimated 77 hours on "unexpected work with businesses and prospects.

After Zeigler left, Nerstad made a motion to hire CEDA for two days per month, provided that an acceptable contract is provided and signed by commissioners. Seconded by Vogel, the measure passed by unanimous vote.

Other Business:

Members voted to remain in their present positions for 2014. Howard Deters will again serve as President. Eric Ostern will retain the Vice President's office. J.C. Nerstad will serve as Treasurer. Tammy Stadtler will serve as Secretary.

The board also voted to allow Bluff Country Artist's Gallery to paint a mural on the Winneshiek Medical Building (which is owned by the EDA), and to make some minor repairs to a doorway area at the incubator building.

The March meeting may include a public hearing on the sale of an EDA lot at the Spring Grove Commercial Park. That offer was approved last year.

The group's next meeting was tentatively set for March 24.